It’s surprising how well Caveman’s debut LP CoCo Beware gels together with their lush harmonies and percussive heartbeat. Another Brooklyn band with buzz treading on summery and shimmering reverb? Yes, and no. Caveman and their stunning commencement move beyond the bong hits and jangle pop and reveal in a more complex creature. The sunny, carefree attitude is there, but behind the scenes there is an intelligence and nuance to these infectious tunes.
The quintet takes a healthy dose of notes from the psychedelia and folky blood running through the veins of tour mates Here We Go Magic and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. On the opening track, “A Country’s King of Dreams,” tribal drumming from percussionist Stefan Marolachakis comes front and center to steer the album. “Vampirer,” the albums lone instrumental track, injects a nice bit of light melancholia with its synth and low, droning bass. It pumps and pushes a bit of the nuanced darkness that hides just under the surface of every cut.
To put it simply, the songs that Caveman have presented always appear to be smiling but the grin is cracking ever so slightly. It’s disconcerting, to say the least, but the multifarious movements play nicely together.
Frontman Matthew Iwanusa’s vocals are bright and densely stacked with harmony. On the slack “My Time,” Iwanusa channels his inner Morrissey over a loose, driving jumble of pop chords and thumping beats. While “December 28th” seeks a sad sort of beauty with lush harmonies from Iwanusa and plinking minor guitar licks lending a mysterious, hazy background. The closer, “Easy Water,” is a slow moving and muddy number that concludes the record on a subdued note.
Caveman play the retro card but not too heavy-handedly as to come off as shlock-y. There’s loose, sloppy folk-soaked 70s beach rock blending with the introspective synth-wave of the 80s on the 10 cuts. The intermingling influences of the Beach Boys, mid-70s Dylan and The Smiths clash together in a compound. Somehow it joins the contrasting emotions of joy and sadness in a simultaneous movement.
Iwanusu and the rest of Caveman have developed a sly melodic suite of psychology and physiology. It’s a ground where love, loss, sexuality and anger are flush with one another. Each emotion here is locked in a stand-down, unwilling to break eye contact. The result is a record where there is no minor or major mood to the entire piece but a new balance of moods. And it is a delight to listen to the dance on CoCo Beware.
Recorded last year at Love Boats Studios with former French Kicks singer Nick Stumpf, CoCo Beware is not necessarily a genre groundbreaker. But it does more with what it has than other lo-fi beach-dweller groups have done before. The motif that makes the album so powerful is that Caveman are unafraid to challenge themselves emotionally and musically. They move beyond the sun-in-your-hair and sand-in-your-toes mentality to a place that while it may be uncomfortable is, inevitably, honest and beautiful.